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Patient Zero - review by Stars & Popcorn

Patient Zero Has Sharp Teeth but Not Much Bite.

Zombie movies are more or less a dime a dozen. Sometimes though a diamond in the rough shines through though, such as 28 Days Later or Zombieland. Patient Zero looked to be one such diamond with an interesting premise and an intriguing cast. However, it only manages to shuffle about and moan like so many zombie movies that came before it.

I suppose in principle, Patient Zero might not necessarily be a zombie movie. The film centers on a virus that causes uncontrollable rage in the infected. They’re driven to attack anyone who isn’t carrier and it seems like they’ve managed to do pretty well for themselves by the time Patient Zero starts. The star of the movie is Matt Smith who plays a man who managed not to succumb to the virus and now has the ability to communicate and understand the infected. Needless to say the army sees the potential in such a skill and he’s assigned to interviewing the infected they manage to catch in search of a fabled Patient Zero who might hold the key to a cure.

The film starts in chaos as it’s revealed that mankind is quickly losing the war against the infected. An important note, because that means fuses are short and that means writer Mike Le has a huge loophole to use as carte blanche for characters to act in totally absurd ways. A fine example of this is an Army Colonel (Clive Standen) who embodies the zombie movie cliche that “man is the real monster.” For some reason he’s furious that he has to work with scientist to save mankind. This means he has plenty of opportunities to be a total tool even when it doesn’t make any sense. Unfortunately, a lot of things in Patient Zero don’t really make much sense.

The shoehorned romance between Smith’s character and Natalie Dormer’s character is another unnecessary plot device. Especially given that Smith’s character is supposedly trying to find a cure to save his wife. This is all elaborated upon in a number of frivolous flashback sequences that only manage to take away from the real meat of the film. The fact that his wife is actually still alive and locked in a cage down in the basement only makes it hard to like Smith’s character as he grows closer with Dormer’s. If only the film had stuck to what we were all there to see, zombies doing zombie stuff.

My complaints end there for Patient Zero. The cast is exceptionally good, but the real pleasure is Stanley Tucciwho plays an infected who seems to be in (almost) complete control of his mental faculties. He plays a Hannibal Lecter-esque game with Matt Smith as the two begin their interview. Luckily Tucci doesn’t try to go full Lecter and instead takes a more casual approach to his character who manages to find all the right buttons to push in Matt Smith. Director Stefan Ruzowitzky does a tremendous job framing the cat and mouse game between the two without giving it an air of pretension. Instead, it feels more like an academic debate between two men who are more concerned with concepts than jargon. The two of them together are easily the best part of Patient Zero.

I have to hand it to Ruzowitzky for the aesthetic he uses in Patient Zero. It has a very dark and industrial feeling to it. This creates a dark and dreary world for the characters to inhabit since he doesn’t really venture outside of the base that the huddled masses are hiding in. However, it doesn’t feel like the forced industrial aesthetic you might see in films such as Jigsaw, instead, it’s underplayed as a result of circumstance rather than an attempt to be moody and cool. The end result is just as unsettling though. This also lets Ruzowitzky play with the two characters by placing them in a glass cage and putting them not only on display for the audience but for the other characters as well. This adds to the parallels seen with Silence of the Lambs, which is both brilliant and unbelievably foolish. The reason is that you really don’t want to remind audiences of a movie that is so much better than you could hope to achieve with the ingredients you have available.

When it comes to 2018 zombie movies, I’d suggest going with The Cured instead of Patient Zero. That being said, I think that most of my disappointment with this film comes from high expectations, something that a critic really shouldn’t let influence their review. However, it’s just so hard watching a movie that has such wonderful elements to it putter about without direction. Patient Zero had some much going for it and so many wonderful sequences, but it never manages to solidify its vision and go the distance to give the audience a truly brilliant film. It definitely sets itself up for a sequel though and with any luck, it’ll do with it what it should have done in the first place. In the meantime, it’s a fairly average zombie movie, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering how many terrible ones there are out there. That’s not an excuse for the movie, but fans of the genre will probably appreciate all it has to offer.

Reviewed by Stars & Popcorn:

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